By Mirela Minkova, YES 2016-2017 Bulgaria, hosted by American Councils in Edwardsville, IL
One of the most exciting parts of coming back to Bulgaria after one academic year in the United States is the re-entry seminar for the newest Bulgarian alumni. The meeting gave us the chance to share our experiences from the year, and to talk about future projects that will make a difference in the community.
The re-entry seminar for the 2017 alumni was held on July 12th and 13th in Sofia, Bulgaria. On the first day the seven of the newest alumni met with the alumni coordinator, Shebi Niazi, and with alumni who completed the program in 2016, Victoria, a student in the American University in Blagoevgrad, and Nazi, our next Alumni Coordinator. We were happy to be introduced to the community and immediately felt very close to each other. We felt comfortable and started sharing our most amazing and most difficult moments from the year. Shebi organized a few activities with questions which everyone of us answered for themselves, but later we found out that most of the answers were very similar. This is the best part of the seminar – connecting with people who have been through experiences that you can relate to. Having the opportunity to interact with my Bulgarian YES family has made me feel more confident and optimistic.
After each one of us shared what has been the most challenging part of living in America, we started discussing our re-adjustment to the Bulgarian environment. One of the most important parts of the seminar is sharing advice on how to cope with the reverse culture shock that we all encountered after coming home. Even though we returned to our familiar environment, it does not feel the same. We have grown and developed as individuals and leaders. We realized that now, as more open-minded, organized, and independent young citizens of our country, we are the ones to make a positive impact. In America we became part of a different culture and lifestyle, which made us more tolerant and acceptable of diversity. We all share new skills and qualities that will help us identify the social issues and take action. Even though, the Bulgarian alumni community is still small, it is growing, and there have been multiple projects organized by them. Our coordinator, together with the other alumni shared the activities from previous years that have benefited the community. Shebi talked about how she developed a project for sending letters of hope to the refugees living in bad conditions in the camps. Victoria and Nazi showed us pictures from their project which involved collecting food and helping to feed people from disadvantaged backgrounds. We also learned about the renovation of a room in a nursing home for people suffering from Alzheimer`s disease and dementia, conducted by alum, Georgi Bakoev, city representative in Sofia.
The numerous examples from the great impact that the YES Alumni community has had inspired us to be active, to initiate more projects in the future, and to be responsible ambassadors for the YES program. On the second day of our re-entry seminar, Rumi, the American Councils Assistant Representative, made a presentation on planning and implementing of a project. She emphasized on team work and leadership skills, finding of a team, creating a budget, and accounting for the expenses. Our team even started a plan and elaborated on two projects – one of them was related to ecology and cleaning the environment, and the other one was concerned with solving the problem with the homeless animals in our community. While discussing our ideas, we all found out that we were mainly influenced by our volunteering experience in America. Our motivation and ambition were inspiring and we had a lot of great ides which will make a difference.
The re-entry seminar for the Bulgarian newest alumni has been extremely helpful and prepared us for the second part of being a YES program exchange student – being active ambassadors for the program. Our introduction to the alumni community created bonds for life and enabled us to receive valuable advice. Now we are part of the YES family of ambitious young individuals who are about to make our community a better place.